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Industrial Action – Can I cross a picket line?

Health Unions across the NHS and Ambulance Services are holding national and local strikes as part of the dispute over pay.

This advice is for GMB members who may be faced with a picket of striking workers at their workplace.

There’s a picket at my workplace but I am not on strike, what do I do?

GMB members should always prioritise patient safety in accordance with your professional duties, the NHS terms of service, and your employment contracts. Therefore, you may still need to work even though your colleagues in other unions are striking.

If this is the case, those picketing should be assured that GMB members who cross the picket line will not undertake work that those on strike would normally have carried out, unless this is unavoidable due to patient safety and care or they are contractually obliged to undertake it.

Workers who have not been called out on strike should attend their workplace as normal. If you cannot cross the picket line for some reason (for example health and safety), you should call your manager and make it clear that you are available for work and ask to be deployed elsewhere.

Undertaking alternative duties that do not require you to cross the picket may be an option, but for most GMB members who can only undertake duties where patients are, this means attending your normal place of work. Therefore, it may be necessary for non-striking GMB members to cross a picket line if you are due to work.

You will not be legally protected if you get involved in the industrial action. You can show moral support any way you like provided it does not amount to taking industrial action yourself or participating to encourage others to take industrial action.

All staff and students who are not included in the dispute should not join or form any part of an official picket line. You can however visit the picket line, when not on duty, to provide logistical support such as food and refreshments.

You can show support by not obstructing or discouraging colleagues from pursuing their legitimate right to take industrial action. You may also take part in any demonstrations on the issue as long as this is in your own time and the demonstration is not designed to discourage people from working. Any support you provide must not compromise your own position as a professional and employee who is not directly part of the dispute.

What do I do if the majority of GMB members at my employer voted for strike action, but I did not?

Strike ballots are confidential, so only you know how you voted in the strike ballot. Regardless of how any individual voted, GMB would hope that all members would support any strike action that was agreed by the majority. Doing so may actually make the action more effective and bring the dispute to a close more quickly.

What do I do if the employer offers me voluntary overtime to do the work of those on strike?

GMB would encourage members to decline this offer.

GMB members will always prioritise patient safety in accordance with your professional duties. Therefore, undertaking voluntary overtime should not be necessary for patient care and would simply be the employer trying to reduce the impact of strike action. Undertaking this work would undermine the impact of other union members’ action.

I am a manager/work in another department and the employer asks me to do the work of those on strike?

GMB would encourage members to decline the offer. However, members should not refuse to undertake a reasonable instruction which is within their job description.